I Believe Steven Messham

TW for rape and rape apologism. 

Steven Messham was seriously and sexually abused as a child while under the care of the government. Police showed him a picture of his abuser and mistakenly identified his abuser as Lord McAlpine, the former Conservative Party treasurer. On Newsnight, Messham said a conservative politician from the Thatcher era had abused him multiple times; after speculation online that this was Lord McAlpine, McAlpine issued a denial that he had done anything of the sort, and when Messham saw a picture he retracted his statements immediately, apologized, and said that McAlpine had never abused him. It seems as though everyone has behaved uprightly in this scandal, with the exception of the police and possibly the factchecker at Newsnight.

And then the Faily Heil showed up and decided to tell us all about the “astonishing story BBC DIDN’T tell about its troubled star witness.”

[Rachel Maddow, blinking.]

I have read this entire story, so I can tell you what happens in it in case you do not have enough spare faith in humanity to read it:

  • Messham said he was abused by a police officer and a police investigation said this wasn’t true, which led to a libel payout. Because it has never, ever, ever happened that police officers have covered up one of their own committing abuse. (Note that according to British law libelous statements are assumed to be false unless proven true, so the fact that there was a successful libel suit doesn’t mean that he wasn’t abused, just that he couldn’t prove that he was abused.)
  • At a public inquiry Messham once shouted obscenities at and attempted to punch a barrister. Because it never happens that survivors are triggered and end up responding in irrational and sometimes violent ways, particularly when they are being questioned by someone about their abuse. I mean, violence is bad! I don’t support punching people and yelling obscenities at them. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a rape survivor.
  • Messham’s lawyer has said, when talking about Messham, that “people who are vulnerable . . .  a good part of them is so disturbed that they’re not going to be wholly consistent and reliable.” Yes? You’ll notice the key part of this quote is that he’s vulnerable and something happened to disturb him.
  • Messham is not 100% consistent about the details of his abuse. Because no one ever misremembers things, particularly things that happened in their childhood, and abuse survivors never dissociate from their memories. Besides, if the police were lying to him about who Lord McAlpine is, who knows what else they were lying to him about?
  • Messham was, at various points, on trial for benefits fraud and defrauding a charity that he ran, but was cleared or acquitted in both cases. Because… crimes he didn’t commit matter? Because rape survivors never commit fraud? What?
  • Some people think that Messham is an unreliable witness. Because as we all know everyone takes rape survivors 100% seriously, particularly when they’re broken and vulnerable as many rape survivors actually are.

In related “people are douchebags” news, this nice David Mellor person decided to call Steven Messham a weirdo. Because being a rape survivor never fucks you up to the extent that you’re kind of weird! All rape survivors are totally normal people who have no emotional problems whatsoever! Also, apparently it’s “ludicrous” that Lord McAlpine could be a rapist. Mr. Mellor should patent his Rapist-O-Vision Goggles, I bet they’d be super-useful in all kinds of circumstances. Want to know if that nice person you’re considering is a rapist? Mellor’s Patented Rapist-O-Vision Goggles will tell you whether it’s ludicrous to say that! (Hint: it’s always ludicrous, until they rape you, at which point you should have known all along and why were you spending time with them?)

Look. There’s a lot of pressure on survivors to be the Perfect Survivor, to stand strong and stalwart and to break down into perfect crystalline tears at the most photogenic of times. Not to have anything in their background that could be criticized– not sex work, or crime, or previous accusations, or anything that could be interpreted as ‘asking for it.’ If you perform Perfect Survivor well enough for us, like a dog on our fucked-up agility show, then we will extend our conditional belief… but only as long as we don’t find out anything that makes us doubt you.

Listen to me closely: FUCK. THAT. SHIT.

I believe that Messham has emotional problems, and that he was raped. I believe that Messham’s testimony may not be 100% accurate, and that he was raped. I believe that Messham tried to punch a barrister, and that he was raped. I believe that Messham may have committed fraud, and that he was raped. I’ll even agree with Mr. Mellor that Messham is a weirdo… and that he was raped.

I believe survivors. I will believe them, and provide them support, because there are too few people in this fucked-up world who will. I believe him because I have emotional problems, and I don’t want that to be a way of discrediting my rape, if I am ever raped. I believe him because I have known too many damn survivors who were not believed and not supported and god fucking dammit I will not add to their fucking number. I believe Steven Messham.

Photo–juliejordonscott/Flickr. Signs at a protest that say “End Violence Now” and “Honk if you Hate Rape.”

About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at ozyfrantz@gmail.com or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.


  1. There is no crime for which I am willing to suspend people’s right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. That being said, you’re all right in that the system has a duty to be less horrible and more supportive of those who come froward as accusers. But that duty doesn’t extend to there being a special class of crimes where you are presumed guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

    • SadieBlake says:

      The problem with the “innocent until proven guilty” model, in cases of rape, is that presuming those accused of rape are innocent is inseparable from presuming their accusers are lying.

      Why do you think so many rapes go unreported? Because the response to reporting a rape MUST BE, in order to support innocent-until-proven-guilty, “Prove it.” And so many times, you just can’t. It’s he-said, she-said – and since the rapist will obviously not accuse themselves of rape (and in many cases, do not believe they have even committed rape), that means the victim not only will not, but cannot legally be taken at their word.

      Obviously, I am not in support of alienating basic human rights, and I believe the innocent-until-proven-guilty model is, in most cases, fair. However, the model is broken when it comes to cases like this one, and it is an injustice to simply say to a victim and survivor of abuse “Well, we have to assume your attacker is innocent unless you can prove (s)he is guilty – gee, too bad all you have is your word that it’s true.”

      • Its always one heck of a horrid situation. I can imagine only one thing worse than a false accusation.

      • I don’t think its actually inseparable from presuming their accusers are lieing. There are other options, such as (relevant to this example) cases of mistaken identity. The accuser was indeed raped, just not be the accused. There are probably other options, but I only needed one other to prove a negative.

        And beyond that, that same objection could be used for a tremendous number of other crimes, such as assault, theft, identity fraud, breach of contract, etc. In all of those cases, and to the same degree as with rape, presumption of innocence necessitates presumption that the accuser may be lieing, or misidentifying the culprit, or other such things.

      • As well, suspending the presumption of innocence creates other, mirrored problems. Take a hypothetical. Two women, A and B have sex, and it is consensual. B, for unnecessary-to-this-hypothetical reasons, two weeks later accuses A of raping her. Without presumption of innocence, and because the science of advanced hypothetical forensics can easily prove the two women had sex, and A was even in a more dominant, forceful role, A is presumed on B’s word to be guilty. Meaning that the state has come to this person, and said “You’re going to jail unless you can prove, with no evidence but your word (there was no particular or useful record of the act or of either participant’s state of consent), that you did not rape B”. You get the same problem either way, only taking away the presumption of innocence sends an aweful lot more innocent people, especially people disadvantaged/oppressed on other axises, to prison. This ALREADY HAPPENS, even with the somewhat nominal presumption of innocence that we have.

  2. “because I have known too many damn survivors who were not believed and not supported and god fucking dammit I will not add to their fucking number.”

    I think that this has to be the crucial consideration when giving rape survivours the benefit of the doubt; statistics show that a large number of rapes happen – appallingly large – and yet, because this is a crime that typically occurs behind closed doors and is overwhelmingly committed be people close to us as opposed to strangers, asking a rape surviour to ‘prove’ their abuse happened isn’t going to do anything.

    The level of ‘proof’, demanded of the victim by rape apologists, is unattainably high in most cases: DNA evidence means sexual contact occurred, but doesn’t tell you the circumstances under which that contact occurred; sworn testimony of rape surviours is not given credence; details from the rape surviour’s past are inevitably used to discredit them further, even though some places have rape shield laws that make that illegal.

    If I recall correctly, Sharia law calls for four righteous men to support an allegation of rape, but, for all the Islamophobia going around, Western society isn’t really dealing with the problem of sexual abuse in a way that is radically better. The testimony of victims are still regarded as being not worth respecting, and some people are still willing to go to extreme lengths to blame and shame surviours of sexual abuse en masse.

    [Trigger Warning]

    I was raped, but as traumatic as that event was I have been able to come to terms with that. What I can never come to terms with is how I was treated AFTER the rape, by friends, police, doctors, counsellors, and extremely vocal strangers who think my tragedy is their business. Getting raped was just the beginning for me, as it is for many surviours of sexual abuse.

  3. Danieldwilliam says:

    Hey there,

    I do totally support a presumption in favour of believing accussations of rape and other sexual abuse.

    But please be careful here.

    Because, your man there, Lord MacAlpine, appears to be completely innocent and the victim of a case of mistaken identity. At best a case of mistaken identity, there may be a significant failure of the current police investigation resulting in MacAlpine being incorrectly identified to Messham as the attacker by the police …

    … and because he is rightly really, really, really pissed off that he has been accused of being a paeodophile all over Twitter…

    … and consequently has been given damages of £185k by the BBC is is very, very publically coming for internet users who named him.

    As a measure of how righteouslly pissed off he is and how determined he is to clear his name and powerful he thinks his position is his first target on Twitter looks to be Sally Bercow, prominent Labour supporter and wife of John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons. This is equivalent to suing Debbie Boehner.

    So yeah, I believe Steve Messham too (except when he is given incorrect information about his attackers) but, if I were you, I’d be a little careful about mentioning Lord MacAlpine.

    • You will notice I said that in the first paragraph.

      It is possible to simultaneously believe McAlpine is not guilty AND to believe that Mellor’s Rapist-O-Vision goggles are ridiculous. Someone can be your friend and ALSO be a rapist. They can be perfectly nice, and also a rapist.

      • I strongly disagree that someone can be both nice and a rapist (excepting a truly penitent rapist, though the usefulness of the perpetual rapist branding is a different discussion).

        Its like how believing in hell disqualifies you from actually being nice. You can’t simultaneously believe in the justness of infinite punishment for finite crime and be nice, just as you can’t simultaneously be unpenitent for such a severe violation of another’s consent and bodily autonomy and also be nice.

      • Danieldwilliam says:

        It’s not me you need to convince. It’s the guy’s lawyers.

        I’m just trying to give you a friendly warning that this guy is mightily upset and is coming after social media types. He may also have one or several additional agenda to his own personal reputation. Whilst at the same time making sure that each of my comments make it absolutely clear that I personally think he was incorrectly identified and is totally innocent.

        He currently has twitter users who mentioned him (not accused him of anything, just mentioned him) lining up to give him money before he sues them.

        The fact that one person has the ability in practise to shut down an entire conversation whilst most other people don’t is less than awesome but there you are.

        You may wish to make a principled stand. I applaud you.

        I for one would mention his name less often than Voldermort.

  4. There is a difference. You shouldn’t dismiss someone off hand because of who they are or what they alleged happened. You also shouldn’t completely suspend your critical judgment when things don’t add up.

    If you don’t believe in something, you’ll fall for anything. I just don’t want to believe in something that requires me to fall for anything.

  5. One thing that drives me nuts the most is the expectation that somehow, victims of abuse — especially childhood sexual abuse — need to be perfectly normal. It’s like, “Hey, I know you were raped as a child, but you can’t have it do anything to your head!” Instead, emotional and psychological problems that most likely RESULT from the abuse are used as a means to discredit claims of said abuse.

  6. ***There’s a lot of pressure on survivors to be the Perfect Survivor, to stand strong and stalwart and to break down into perfect crystalline tears at the most photogenic of times. Not to have anything in their background that could be criticized– not sex work, or crime, or previous accusations, or anything that could be interpreted as ‘asking for it.’ If you perform Perfect Survivor well enough for us, like a dog on our fucked-up agility show, then we will extend our conditional belief… but only as long as we don’t find out anything that makes us doubt you.***

    Such requirements ar not limited to “being believed,” but also to being an “acceptable person in crisis.”

    Its OK to be in crisis in our society, but you must remain fully intellectual, introspective, and enjoyable to share a cup of tea with. And for God’s sake…don’t let your symptoms spill-over onto our coffee table….its mahogany dear.

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